Would Mark Padun Be a Good Fit at Ineos?
And why the signing could signal panic inside the British superteam
The transfer season got interesting earlier this week when it emerged that Mark Padun, the Ukrainian climbing sensation, was potentially heading to Ineos after his contract with Bahrain-Victorious expires at the end of the season. While it is normal for the off-season to be rife with somewhat fanciful transfer rumors (i.e. Egan Bernal to Movistar), this one came from a fairly reliable source in the form of the Dutch Cycling Wielerflits Podcast, which made the news/rumor something to take seriously.
WielerFlits.nl @WielerFlitsWIELERFLITS PODCAST | We zijn terug met nieuws! https://t.co/2QI7zGQMkH | 🎙️ #transfers #wielertransfer #podcast #wielrennen #koers #veldrijden #cross #EKveldrijden #EuroCross21 #Rapportcijfers https://t.co/AwtUbv9Ttn
It is worth noting that Ineos has since denied the report, but, it isn’t clear how much this denial is worth at this point since of course, that is exactly what they would say if they were pursuing, or even already signed Padun, but weren’t ready to release the news.
Padun’s outlier climbing performances at this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné and Ineos’ massive budget, which allows them to be incredibly aggressive in the transfer market (see: their rumored €18 million per year offer for Tadej Pogačar to come over from UAE), meant this rumor sent shockwaves through the community of hardcore cycling fans. One major talking point that has emerged is that Padun would solve all of Ineos’ many problems and automatically deliver them a grand tour contender capable of contending with the sport’s GC superstars Pogačar, Primož Roglič, and new up-and-comers like João Almeida and Jonas Vingegaard. A super talent like Padun heading to a superteam like Ineos is admittedly quite interesting, but upon closer inspection, there are quite a few issues with this potential marriage.
Padun Is Not a GC Savior
The major problem with the theory that Padun could return Ineos to its former glory, is that Padun, while clearly a talented rider, is not a stage racing star, or really even a serious contender over multi-stage races. The 25-year-old hasn’t competed for the overall win at a single one-week long stage race in his career and the single stage race success of his career was a win at the regional four-stage Adriatica Ionica Race in 2019.
In fact, Padun’s lack of wins extends beyond stage racing. For example, 100% of his career WorldTour wins came on the final two stages of the 2021 Dauphiné, and a key detail that I’ve seen overlooked is that Padun failed to figure in the overall GC at the Dauphiné, even while he was clearly the strongest rider in the race (as evidenced by winning the two hardest stages of the race from the GC group). This tells me that no matter how strong he may be, he will likely always struggle to maintain his GC position through the grind of stage races and minimize his time losses on stages that don’t feature high mountains.
Padun Career Wins
And looking past the one-week races, if we look at Padun’s grand tour appearances, he has never been in contention for the overall classification at a grand tour.
Grand Tour general classification results
Taking these past results into account, along with his relatively advanced age, at least for a grand tour prospect, of 25, and it becomes clear that not only would Padun not be the answer to Ineos’ problems but that he would struggle to even work his way into the leadership rotation on a team with four riders who have won grand tours in their careers. For example, Egan Bernal, the winner of the 2019 Tour de France and 2021 Giro d’Italia, struggles to get outright leadership at grand tours.
While there is the possibility that Ineos is simply pursuing a high-upside rider who has fallen out with his current team to strengthen mountain support in a grand tour, Ineos already has a plethora of strong mountain domestiques, and Padun’s talent mostly lies in sniping difficult non-GC mountain stages and he has never actually proven an ability to work consistently for a GC leader.
The Appeal of Padun
Even with these numerous question marks, Padun likely still remains interesting and appealing to Ineos due to his outlier performances on the final two stages of the Dauphiné. If we refer back to the post analyzing the best climbing performances of the season, Padun’s numbers on La Plagne land him among the sport’s best.
*As the aggregator of these numbers, @NaichacaCycling, pointed out in a response to my initial post breaking down these numbers, Padun’s effort is perhaps even more impressive than Roglič’s and Pogačar’s since my Frankenstein process involved combining two climbs to get their numbers, versus a single ascent for Padun. While this could be true, I would contend that numbers produced in a grand tour shouldn’t be compared one-to-one with numbers from shorter races due to the extreme fatigue acquired during a three-week race. And while it has even been suggested that Padun’s effort on stage 7 of the Dauphiné surpasses any uninterrupted steady-state numbers produced by Pogačar, this can’t be true, since to beat Roglič, who averaged 369 watts (5.7 w/kg) over 57-minutes, by nearly two minutes on stage 20 of the 2020 Tour de France, he would have at least matched Padun’s 6.1w/kg over a 20% longer duration.
Setting this aside, the main takeaways from the data should be that any way we slice it, Padun was as strong in the mountains at the Dauphiné as any rider was all season long, and if we eliminate any currently unknowable outside variables like a hidden motor or PED use, he is in theory capable of reproducing these efforts for Ineos.
A Questionable Fit
One pro-Padun argument would be that if Ineos has the chance to sign Padun away from Bahrain, they should since it could be all upside for them. With such a deep roster, they don’t have to lean on him for results, and anything he delivers is something of a bonus. In this view, they owe it to themselves to sign him, since if a raw talent makes themselves available, it would be silly to let the chance pass.
But this is where things get complicated. While I would understand and accept the above argument if the acquiring team didn’t have much to lose, it feels like a strange move from such an already-stacked team like Ineos. First of all, the question any team should be asking themselves is why Padun is still without a contract for 2022? There is the chance that this is due to a disagreement over compensation and/or Bahrain’s decision to not bring Padun to the Tour de France. While Ineos could easily solve the compensation problem, this is likely to add more bloat to a roster already full of expensive, talented riders (the rumor is that 20 riders on Ineos’ roster make over €1 million per year).
If Padun was indeed unhappy with his Tour snub at Bahrain, the situation is unlikely to improve at Ineos. The British team is the hardest team on which to make the Tour de France squad, and they even failed to take Bradley Wiggins to the 2013 Tour after he won the 2012 edition. The team’s current iteration is chock-full of high upside but oftentimes unproven, GC talent, not to mention the fact that Ineos already has the maximum number of riders allowed by the UCI (30 + 2 neo pros).
Ineos’ 2022 Roster
With this in mind, it seems incredibly strange for the team to go out and add further exposure to this demographic by signing a fully formed and inconsistent climber to this roster, instead of digging in by finding and developing young talent that can turn into the future GC contenders for the team.
In short, I simply don’t see why Ineos would go through the trouble of taking a chance on such an unproven, but not incredibly young, rider, no matter how impressive they have looked in flashes in the past. Padun is a great fit on a squad that can afford to pay him a high salary but doesn’t mind his inconsistent performances since the eventual payout far exceeds anything they ‘lost’ during the meantime. Since this is essentially the description of his current Bahrain team, I suspect these rumors are just posturing by Padun’s agent to increase his market value, and that he will agree to a new deal with Bahrain in the next few weeks.